Tuesday 6th January 2015. Day 120 Doubtful delights
We checked out of the hotel at 10.00am this morning but sat in the lobby for an extra 30 minute in order to make use of our free internet allowance. Having sorted out emails and attempted to Skype we then drove on south, past the eastern end of Lake Te Anau and on to Lake Manapouri, where we located the Real Journeys visitors centre by the river. We drove up the hill to the unrestricted stay car park and made the short but very steep descent to the visitors centre with our overnight bags ready for our visit to Doubtful Sound. This fjord had been named by Captain Cook who did not enter it as he was doubtful as to how long it would take to obtain a favourable wind to sail out again. It was not until the early 19th century that it was explored from the sea, initially by small boats, as the larger ships lay off its mouth.
After a leisurely coffee on the wharfside our boat was ready to take us on the first leg of our journey, the transit of Lake Manapouri. Although windy, the weather was beautiful and we enjoyed the lake trip across the island studded body of water surrounded by forested mountains. The lake had been threatened in the early 1960s by the building of the Hydroelectric plant at the far end of the lake, our destination. The power station was needed to supply electricity to the proposed aluminium plant at Tiwa Point, 90 kilometres away. It had been proposed to ensure water supply by raising the lake level 30 metres, changing its character irrevocably by drowning many of the islands. However local opposition, led by the founder of the Real Journeys company, who had started bringing tourists into Doubtful Sound by boat and on foot, turned the local issue into a national one, eventually influencing the outcome of a general election. The Labour Party policy was to protect the lake by managing water flow from Lake Te Anau into Lake Manapouri within its natural limits, whilst ensuring sufficient water flow for the power station by a control structure at the exit of Lake Te Anau. This was a seminal moment for the nascent environmental lobby in New Zealand and contributed hugely to the blossoming care for the natural world which is so evident today.
We disembarked at our destination and waited a short while in the comfort of another visitors centre, complete with all the necessary facilities plus an informative display on the HEP station and the environment of the fjord. Our coach was soon ready to take us on the second leg of the journey, on the road built for building the power station and its infrastructure. The power station itself sits deep underground, with the water from Lake Manapouri taken down vertical shafts to the turbines from where a pair of gently sloping tail race tunnels travel 19 kilometres to discharge into Doubtful Sound. The road was a major engineering achievement, allowing materials to be brought in by sea, although it and the whole project was very expensive, both in monetary terms with the 24 kilometre road costing $100 a meter, and in the loss of 16 lives, one per mile.
The road is unsealed and travels across the Wilmot pass at 647 metres, offering spectacular views of the beauties of Doubtful Sound from the crest of the pass. The road snakes through stands of silver and mountain beech with a very steep descent to sea level. The end point was Deep Cove where the Fjordland Navigator, our purpose built, in 2005, floating hotel awaited. She is a beautiful 3 masted ship with well equipped cabins and public areas.
We were soon settled into our cabin, number 1 which shows how early we booked, and the ship cast off for the cruise. Doubtful Sound is much longer than Milford Sound and has a wilder, more remote beauty, with far fewer vessels plying its waters. The forested, near vertical sides plunge into the water which is over 430 metres deep near the shallower step at the fjord’s mouth. The vegetation is a mosaic of beech forest arranged in strips, reflecting the impact of tree avalanches which lead to periods of revegetation. These avalanches are the product of the steepness of the slopes and the lack of soil on the glaciated, highly resistant metamorphic rocks. The trees survive by creating a mat of interwoven roots which helps anchor the trees but as trees die and their roots become brittle the deadweight, especially during heavy rain, overwhelms the strength of the mat and the dead tree, plus its neighbours, plunge straight down the slope towards the fjord. This leaves strips of steep, bare rock which are recognised by lichens of mosses, followed by tree ferns and eventually, after a century or more, beech trees regrow to maturity.
The vessel took the port side of the main passage, heading towards the Tasman Sea, cruising past the impressively high and steep slopes of the glacial trough. Although a fjord the waterway does have a number of arms which represent flooded hanging valleys. We headed into crooked arm where we were stopped and were given the option of kayaking or a ride in a ship’s tender, to allow closer view of the environment. We chose the tender and enjoyed the trip, close to the shore, allowing a closer view of the vegetation, especially the northern rata tree, with its beautiful red flowers. This is South Island’s Christmas tree. We had hoped to see some bird life but even here the bird population has been savaged by the alien predators, especially stoats and rats. The vegetation was not immune to the attention of possums and deer, which can cause extensive damage. As we travelled we came across the corpse of a Thresher shark which had been recently washed on to a Rick beach.
On rejoining the ship we were given the opportunity to swim off the stern. Eric took the opportunity to enter the water first, not by jumping but by letting himself in gently as befitted his age. After a 15 minute splash around in the refreshing water, which was not too cold to enjoy, he was the last to climb aboard. Joyce watched from the top deck and called encouraging comments such as ‘watch out for the sharks’ while taking photographs.
Having showered and dried off, Eric joined Joyce in the saloon for a delicious bowl of hot soup, as the ship resumed its travels to the Tasman Sea. Passing through a narrow channel between an island and the mainland we entered the open ocean, into a colder stronger wind. The sails were unfurled and we cruised past a number of small rocky islands, rolling slightly in the swells from the Tasman. As we travelled we could see the sea birds working the sea surface, including several albatross. Our goal was the colony of New Zealand fur seals which occupied one of the small rocky islands to the north and we saw a large number of seals with their pups.
We threaded our way past a number of other islands before rendering the Sound and then headed for First Arm, where we anchored for the night. The day had continued sunny and Joyce had spent most of it on deck with only five layers of clothes. The sunset proved an attractive end to the day. A thoroughly delicious buffet dinner followed comprising the best of New Zealand fare, including roast beef and particularly good lamb, complete with mint sauce. We then retired to our cabin for the night.
Wednesday 7th January 2015 Day 121 Southern scenic specials
We were woken at 6.00am as the ship’s engine was brought back to life and Eric took the opportunity to go on deck to photograph what was left of ray fingered dawn. We enjoyed our full cooked breakfast in the saloon then went on deck to enjoy the cruise back along the fjord to its furthest extent inland. Again we relished the buy of the landscape with the changing views of mountains and dramatic steep slopes, especially as the ship sailed to within 4 metres of a revegetating cliff face, illustrated the way the fjord sides plunge to the depths.
At the furthest extent then skipper closed down all machinery and we stood stock still in absolute silence for 15 minutes to experience the natural sounds of the Sound. Close by us was a waterfall and from the forest we could her a wider variety of bird calls and song. The light breeze sussurated in the leaves. It was a very touching spiritual experience and all the passengers clearly relished it.
Once the engine began its beat we were on the very last part of the cruise. Passing Parson’s rock, where a priest left for a few hours fishing was finally recovered as the rising tide made it look as if he was walking on water, and the circumnavigation of another small island rich in rata, we made our way back to the berth in Deep Cove.
Having disembarked we retraced our steps back over Wilmot Pass on the coach then another enjoyable cruise back across Lake Manapouri in the sunshine. Back in the car we rejoined the Southern Scenic Route, which we had first joined in Queenstown. This took us south through more open rolling countryside. We stopped for lunch at the Clifden Suspension bridge and enjoyed the views of the Waiau river. Motoring on we reached the cast near Tuatapere at the mouth of the Waiau river and made photo stops at McCracken’s rest overlooking Te Waewae bay, Gemstone beach, which was in a sand rather than shingle phase – so no gems, and Monkey Island – in legend the anchor stone of the Takitumu wake captained by Tamatea and wrecked at the mouth of the Waiau river.
We then made a short diversion to Cosy Nook, a delightful rocky bay originally a Maori settlement site and now with its tiny fishing community. A short stop at Colac Bay, with its surfer statue, followed, then a short visit to Riverton to enjoy the views of the harbour and its church, plus the giant paua shell.
From here we found our way around Invercargill to our motel in the Ascot Park complex, close to the racecourse. Feeling tired we resorted to our emergency meal plan, with Eric cooking penne cheese, before falling into bed.
Thursday 8th January 2015 Day 122. Stewart sojourn
Up relatively early this morning as we had to be in Bluff by 9.10am to catch the ferry to Stewart Island. Our motel was well situated to allow easy access to the road to Bluff, one of the earliest settlements in New Zealand with a very good view of the Tiwa Point Aluminium Smelter.
We were at the Real Journeys visitors centre in very good time. Once checked in we were directed to a nearby ‘broken’ car park where we could park free for the day. The ferry boarded on time and we set off for the hour’s crossing of the Foveaux Strait. As we left Bluff we could see the start of State Highway 1, which runs all the way to Cape Reinga in the north and the aluminium chain which is related to the first canoe legend.
The crossing was relatively smooth in the fast catamaran and we were well on time for our arrival at the jetty in Oban. Once ashore we walked the short distance to check in for our minibus tour of the Village and Bays. With a permanent population of 400, all within the clearly defined limits of Oban (2% of the islands land surface) and only 29 kilometres of sealed roads this was never going to be a long tour. Our guide, Kirsty, is a local who can trace her family back over more than 7 generations. Many of the locals are descendants of the early settlers, from the sealing, whaling and forestry operations based on the island at certain times, many of whom married the local Maori. The community is close knit and well organised, essential to survive the winter months in this most southern outpost of New Zealand. Our first stop was Mill Creek, with its preserved baulks of cut timber in the bed of the creek. We next viewed Breakfast and Horseshoe Bays which were empty of beach goers. Given the nature of the weather it is essential to choose the bay according to wind direction. Our next stop was Lee Bay and the entrance to the Rakiura National Park, which makes up 95% of the island. The only public access is on foot and there is a complex of walking tracks, supported by an infrastructure of huts. The entrance itself is a chain sculpture, brown rather than aluminium, matching that in Bluff and echoing the legend whilst representing the links between all people in New Zealand.
From Lee Bay we retraced our steps then drove through Oban, being shown the dining and retail opportunities (barely into the plural) before driving up to Observation Rock with its views over Paterson Inlet, the huge aural harbour. In view were the islands of Iona and Ulva. The minibus then returned us to the wharf where we checked on for the second part of our visit, the boat cruise in Paterson Inlet.
The boat was already tied up and proved to be the sister vessel of the morning ferry. We boarded and headed out towards the Foveaux Strait. As we left Halfmoon Bay the boat stopped and a crew member started to feed the albatross which created superb photograph opportunities. We then travelled into the inlet viewing the island studded body of water. We sailed between Iona and Observatory rock and into a number of inlets with their boathouses and moored yachts. As we sailed further into the inlet we were shown the site of a major timber operation which has now reverted to natural forest. It was here that we saw a penguin enjoying a wash on the surface.
Once we had explored some of the coastline we stopped at Ulva Island for an hour’s guided walk, again with Kristy. The natural forest is predator free after much continuing effort of trapping and has a number of southern brown kiwi in residence, one having been spotted on the beach that morning. Our appetites whetted for such a sighting we enjoyed our stroll through the forest being shown rare and exotic plants and spotting the tri, bush robin and ground hopping saddleback whilst hearing a range of other bird calls. Towards the end of the walk we strolled along the beach in Aurora Bay, the site of a Maori execution of sealers in revenge for a series of mistreatment of women. One youth was spared by the chief’s daughter, who he eventually married, and he was taught Maori and became an intermediary with the Europeans, eventually leading to more peaceful coexistence.
Once back on the boat we returned to Oban where we visited the Presbyterian and Anglican churches and went for a paddle, this being the furthest point south we will travel, Stewart Island being the meeting point of the Tasman sea, Pacific Ocean and Southern Ocean. We explored the retail opportunities before enjoying a dinner of savoury and sweet pancakes. We then returned to the ferry terminal and boarded the same boat as we had toured the inlet. The return passage was distinctly more lively in the strengthening wind and rising swell. Back in Bluff at 7.00pm we admired the fine architecture dating from its heyday but felt we did not have time to explore it further. Instead we returned to the motel and bed.
Friday 9th January 2015. Day 123 Catlin coasting
After a reasonable night’s sleep we drove into Invercargill to see some of its historic buildings. We followed some of the heritage trail, admiring the façades of the street frontage, before having a problem finding a public convenience, a problem solved by a visit to a department store. We then drove to see the outstanding Victorian water tower and stopped at the museum, with its fascinating Maori collection, where we had lunch. On the way out of Invercargill we visited the first Presbyterian church, with its square plan, constructed from 1 million bricks.
Our route now rejoined the Southern Scenic Route through the Catlins, with its coastal extension from Fortrose. Our first stop was Waipapa Point with its distinctive wooden lighthouse. We then drove to Slope Point, the most southerly point on South Island. It has taken us almost a month to travel from the very northern most point. From here we paused at Curio Bay to visit the remains of a petrified forest exposed on the shore platform. There is also a breeding colony of the rare yellow eyed penguin above the beach, but we saw no signs.
A short drive brought us to Porpoise Bay where we enjoyed an ice cream, the sunshine and a paddle on the beach. We kept our eyes seaward to try to spot the rare Hector’s Dolphin, which is a regular visitor in summer, but the dolphin dearth continues and none were seen.
Time was now pressing so we headed straight for Dunedin, ignoring the lure of other scenic attractions. We travelled past Kala point, through Balclutha and Milton with its fine Presbyterian Church and neighbouring decorated roadside tree. Our gps gave us an interesting route to our B&B, attempting to take us across the mountain by a one lane, very steep, unsealed road. We declined the offer and finally found a driveable route. We received a very warm welcome and after a cup of tea headed for the nearby fish and chip shack. Carrying our wrapped Hokey and a scoop we walked through the dunes and sat on a deserted beach to enjoy our dinner. Having finished we walked along the beach before finding our way back to our hosts and bed.
Saturday 10th January 2015. Day 124. Otago observations
We started the day with scrambled egg and home made bread at 8.00am then headed out at 9.30am to explore the Otago Peninsula. We took the low road, along the harbour shore and enjoyed the views of the inlet as we drove past Macandrew, Company, Broad and Portobello Bays. We reached the headland at Tairoa Point and enjoyed the views of the cliffs and sea and the large number of young seagulls and their parents. We then explored the potential of delights in a café further up the hill but with no result. We then navigated our way back to Weller Rock and parked near the wharf for our booked wildlife cruise on the Monarch at noon.
Once aboard we were equipped with a windproof jacket and binoculars. Although initially chilly the jackets were soon abandoned in the warm sunshine. We travelled out of Otago Harbour and around Tairoa Point before heading a little out to sea. On the way round the point we were treated to clear views of a number of Royal Albatross nests, although none were flying since there was so little wind. These are the largest of the albatrosses and have been breeding here since after the Second World War. On the slopes below we could see the Stewart Island Shag (cormorant) roosting and on nearby cliffs, the Spotted Shag. We were also taken close to the rocks where the New Zealand fur seals are raising their pups. Other birds included shearwaters and terns and further out we saw a seal working at consuming its catch, with a cheeky tern tuggy at the other end and a number of other birds trying to join in.
Back at the wharf we reclaimed the car from its quarry parking spot and drove into Portobello for lunch at the local café. After lunch we drove across the peninsula to Hoppers Inlet, skirting the distinctive Harbour Cone. Returning to Portobello we headed up the high road, over the spine of the peninsula to the coiffed south coast. The views here were spectacular. On reaching Pukehiki we turned towards Larnach Castle, built in a dominant position by an Australian banker in the 1870s. Dunedin at the time was riding the wealth generated from the Otago goldfields. The house is a fascinating structure, English designed but with colonial features such as the wrap round veranda, it has been renovated and furnished with period furniture. The views from the turret roof are outstanding. After a walk through the outhouses, including the methane house which generated gas for lighting, and the range of well planned and well planted gardens, we enjoyed a drink in the ballroom café before driving towards Dunedin. Passing again through Pukehiki we visited the wooden Community Church and admired the tiny library.
Once in Dunedin we parked just beyond the Octagon and walked beck to investigate the restaurants. In doing so we passed the town hall, which reminded us both strongly of the Leeds municipal buildings, and the cathedral which was closed. Having checked out a number of menus we decided a walk was in order before we ate. Spying the distinctive and dominating Presbyterian Church we wandered up the hill to see if it was open, which it was. After exploring the interior we walked back down the hill past the Law Courts to the Railway Station. All these buildings reflect the confidence and wealth of19th century Dunedin, with being of a high architectural quality built decoratively in stone. The station itself was a revelation built in Flemish Renaissance style and decorated internally with bespoke tiles and friezes. Outside is preserved a fine steam locomotive.
After an exceptionally sunny day for Dunedin, having admired the townscape, we sat outside a restaurant in the Octagon for a meal of bangers and mash for Eric and a rich vegetable soup for Joyce. Feeling replete we returned to our accommodation and bed.
Sunday 11th January 2015. Day 125 Penguin perambulations
Our first port of call this morning was the City Life church in Dunedin for the 10.00am service. Worship was well led and contemplative and the word reinforced the continuing message of non-judgemental relationships, especially with those outside the Church. We enjoyed a warm welcome and after a coffee we left for our next appointment, Olveston House. We had booked a 1.30pm tour but as we were only 10 mins away, a phone call switched us to the 12.00pm tour so we headed directly to the house.
Olveston House is a time capsule from a very wealthy family of the early 20th Century. David Theomin made his wealth through trade, setting up an extremely successful piano importing business and he spent his money creating a comfortable family home, designed by an English architect, filled with a delightful eclectic mix of furniture, pictures and decorative objects reflecting interest in European, Chinese and Japanese culture. The last surviving child died without marrying and left the house and all its contents to the city. The guide was very informative and we thoroughly enjoyed the hour tour and the well kept English cottage gardens and conservatory.
From the house we drove to the Chinese Garden and relished the combination of the classic elements of the scholar’s garden creating multiple changing vistas. We snatched a snack lunch in the car and then headed for our motel in Oamaru. With little to see en route we intended to arrive reasonably early. Needing petrol, but distracted by views of the University (the first and still the foremost in NZ), Eric drove past a petrol station. He was sure that there would be another before we left the city, but a few minutes later we had left the city limits and we heading up Telegraph Hill into open country. Eric spent the next hour watching the fuel gauge heading towards empty, with no sign of any fuel. We diverted to the coast road to explore settlements which might have petrol without any luck, but we did enjoy the fine coastal views. Rejoining SH1 we finally reached Palmerston, with the warning light glowing clearly. Here we found a petrol station which relieved Eric’s mounting anxiety.
North of Palmerston we diverted to the coast to visit Shag Point and Matakaea Reserve. Here we saw a fur seal colony and then another location of a yellow eyed penguin rookery, with no penguins in sight.
A short distance north we visited the Moeraki boulders, large rounded boulders on the foreshore. These ocean bed concretions had eroded out of the cliff and lie across the foreshore.
We reached the motel by. 5.10pm and feeling tired retired to bed for a rest, which turned into a 90 minute sleep. We then went into Oamaru to enjoy a steak dinner, having found no evidence of tradional Sunday roasts, before heading to the harbour in attempt to view the arrival of the blue (little) penguin. We had gleaned from the internet that there was no need to pay for the seating overlooking the main rookery, as many penguins came ashore at the slipway near the curved wooden jetty, which had been built to serve the refrigerated meat trade that began here and contributed to the town’s wealth. We arrived around 8.45pm and explored the vicinity. Of particular interest was the watchman’s hut which was the first point of contact for the returning Terra Nova after the ill-fated south pole expedition.
As dusk deepened and the rain began, around 9.30pm, we were fortunate to see the penguins arrive, carefully navigating the slipway and crossing the road to the vegetation behind. By the time we left 14 penguins had been seen. Satisfied by our experience we returned to the motel.
Monday 12th January 2015. Day 126 Penguin paucity
Still very tired we slept in beyond 9.30am. We decided on a quiet morning to sit out the continued rain. Eric used the time to catch up with the blog. After a sandwich lunch we drove to the viewpoint overlooking the harbour and on to Bushy Beach, a yellow eyed penguin colony. The breeding birds fish during the day and, as the Blue penguins, return to the chicks in the afternoon or early evening. Seeing nothing but a few fur seals we resolved to come back this evening. We then drove into the Victorian part of town where the old warehouses have been converted into craft shops. Oamaru was a very wealthy town by the end of the 19th century, based on frozen exports of meat and the wealth was used to create a very impressive set of buildings of varying architectural styles, rich in decoration and constructed of the local cream coloured fine limestone.
We walked towards the centre of town and visited the fine St Luke’s Church, begun in 1865 and constructed of the local stone. We then admired the façades of the large buildings lining the street including the Athenaeum, now the council offices. We visited the local museum with examples of Maori rock art, before returning to the car via the Steampunk centre. We decided to give this a miss as we were not fully familiar with the genre.
The local supermarket provided the resources for a delicious pork and veg supper, which Joyce cooked in the room’s kitchenette. After supper we drove back to the beach. After an hour’s observation we had again failed to see any penguins, yellow eyed or otherwise, although the beach did host some more seals. Disappointed we returned to our room and finished the blog.